Updated plan could curb Hawaii extinctions
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As efforts to conserve Hawaii's land to prevent further extinction of native plants and animals fall short, two Kauai researchers are introducing another method that bridges the old ways and the new.
This method, called "inter-situ," would reintroduce species in a pre-existing wild environment using the same efforts as in human-controlled environments, such as in botanical gardens and zoos.
The researchers say Hawaii's environment, what they call the "extinction capital of the U.S.," is worsening for most species, and conservationists need to take bold steps to curb the dire situation created by humans, new diseases and natural disasters.
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Conservationists wanting to curb the extinction of native plants and animals in Hawaii's increasingly dire environment should try a technique that would reintroduce species into a wild but closely controlled habitat, two Kauai researchers suggest.
David Burney of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and Lida Pigott Burney of the Makauwahi Cave Reserve in Kalaheo say the common methods used by conservationists are failing.
The risk of further extinction will only get worse as human contact and foreign diseases continue to devastate the natural environment, they say. Of 540 extinct plants and animals in the U.S., nearly half of them were in Hawaii. Half of the estimated 1,209 native Hawaiian plants are at risk of extinction or have already died out.
They propose expanding a method called "inter-situ," in use for more than a decade, to create new populations of species by introducing them into a recent former environment but closely managing the area using the same techniques in zoos and botanical gardens.
The duo use the Makauwahi Cave Reserve on Kauai's dry South Shore as an example of the inter-situ approach since the area, which is home to some native species, could be ecologically restored by removing alien vegetation and replacing it with native plants.
"The history of conservation on Kauai and elsewhere may show that conservationists bold enough to surf the current extinction wave managed to bring some species back from the brink by buying enough time for these species and communities to benefit from more elegant solutions that scientists may yet discover," said the report, which was published in this month's issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
"Until then, restoration paleoecology may encourage conservationists to cast the widest safety net conceivable for species that are otherwise slipping away," the report said.
Inter-situ incorporates an old technique, in-situ, which conserves the endangered wildlife by preserving them in their natural habitat, such as in state and national parks. However, this has proved to be expensive and difficult to maintain.
The other method, ex-situ, which takes these species out of their natural environment and puts them into zoos and botanical gardens, has proved only mildly successful because of limited greenhouse and garden space and the lack of natural recruitment. Additionally, this system is close to being overwhelmed by the sheer number of endangered wildlife.
Inter-situ, they say, will provide opportunities to prevent extinction by increasing population size and allowing conservationists to have more control of invasive species.